Last weekend was my 40th high school reunion. It came and went without me. Not that I ever had any intention of going. The specter of being in a room with scores of people last seen in the corridors of New Trier was scary, rather than enticing, frankly. I've maintained a few stellar friendships from that era. But, I choose not to dwell on that outdated, prehistoric version of myself. I prefer the well worn, but much smarter, Me of today.
While I missed the event itself, I was very excited about seeing my old friend, Tom, again. He has been living outside Portland for almost three decades. Retired for the last several years, he came into town a few days before the Big Event. Over two days, we were able to go for several walks and out for dinner. We had enough time to talk and rediscover our affinity for one another (at least I did!). It was lovely.
I found out a lot about Tom that I never knew back when we were at New Trier together. Like, what it was like being one of the only Asians in the entire school district, or going to kindergarten without knowing a single word of English. How he managed to successfully juggle two distinct worlds – that of his close-knit and very traditional Chinese family, and the kid culture of sports, school, and socializing. The first time he ever saw a cow was when he arrived in New Hampshire to attend Dartmouth. He was in his mid-twenties when he first met his much older siblings, who had stayed behind in China when his parents and brother came to these shores.
We talked about how he had used his law degree to help those who otherwise would have fallen through the cracks. He and his long-time partner Joyce have been able to satisfy a constant and enduring wanderlust, enjoying extended travel to many corners of the globe. And all of this has been done while living simply – always below their means, always saving, and always deliberating, often for years, before making a non-essential purchase. This is so incredibly different from the way most of us live. Tom practices yoga and meditation along with his hiking and mountain climbing. What he enjoys most is simply having the time to think. He’s not in a hurry, especially these days. He is that increasingly rare breed – a man totally at peace with himself and the life he leads. He gets up every morning, excited to greet the day. He has made choices that work, grounding him and enriching his life.
We sat in the car that Indian summer afternoon, the sun warming us through the windshield as we chatted. I felt wrapped in a cocoon, suspended in time, in the presence of a master storyteller. It was an extraordinary moment, a memory in the making. I hated getting out of the car; I did not want to break the spell.
In the last few months, I have been doing a lot of reading on different ways to achieve harmony with nature and within ourselves. Perhaps this is my way of preparing myself for what happens after Election Day, the emotional equivalent of stocking the shelves of my interior bomb shelter. The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan made a big impression on me about the importance of being – literally – a mindful consumer. And I just finished Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle about her family’s quest to live off the land in their new/old home in Appalachia. While I can’t suddenly recast myself as a Tom clone, I can definitely extrapolate from what he’s done right in order to achieve more inner peace for myself. I just need to find the time to think some more about it.
I’m thrilled about reconnecting with this old friend. Who knew that we would have so much to talk about this many years later? He’s given me a lot of food for thought. Taking time out to tell his story is one way to savor the time we spent together.